The Wall, the Shutdown and the Make-Believe Presidency

Donald Trump
Is he right about this one?

In 1989, a duo consisting of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus achieved a historic first, hitting the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with three different songs from their first album. It sold 7 million copies in the United States, vaulted them to worldwide fame and won them a Grammy.

Today, though, the artists known as Milli Vanilli are remembered only because they were total fakes. Morvan and Pilatus didn’t do any of the singing on their album. When that significant fact came to light, their Grammy was revoked and their careers were over.

Donald Trump is the Milli Vanilli of presidents. He wanted the fame and power of the office without actually doing the real work that comes with it. So he pretends. His idea of administering his constitutional duties as head of the executive branch is to idle away hours watching Fox News, fire off belligerent tweets and look for opportunities to capture the spotlight.

His ongoing fraud is most visible in his proposed border wall. The scheme that is synonymous with Trump was not even his idea. His campaign advisers dreamed it up as a memory device for his rally speeches, to get him to talk about immigration. With audiences chanting “Build the wall!” it became the chief symbol of his candidacy.

Now it has become the chief symbol of his ineptitude as a leader and a negotiator. Unable to persuade enough members of Congress to approve $5.7 billion for his wall, Trump chose to shut down a large part of the federal government rather than sign a funding bill without that provision.

On Friday, he finally capitulated, agreeing to sign a measure that provides funds to reopen the government for three weeks — but no money for his wall. After announcing the deal, Trump embarked on an extended diatribe about the need for a wall.

It may be the defining moment of his administration: a five-week shutdown that ends with him raving about the merits of something he failed to get. The make-believe nature of his presidency has never been more evident.

But from the beginning, everything about the proposal was phony. No study was done to confirm that the wall would be the most cost-effective approach to illegal immigration. It would be impractical and most likely impossible to erect a tall concrete barrier from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. He was the only person who took the notion seriously.

Not a single House member from a district on the border is in favor of Trump’s wall. His first secretary of homeland security, John Kelly, said the barrier was “unlikely.” His first interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, expressed puzzlement on where to place it: “We’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.”

But Trump found the wall too effective as proof of his fierce resolve. So he shackled himself to it.

It’s possible to forget now that one key to its appeal was what he promised: “I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” It was about as plausible as expecting the Red Sox to cover the Yankees’ payroll.

So overtly absurd was this vow that when he met with President Enrique Pena Nieto during the campaign, Trump didn’t even raise the issue. “We didn’t discuss payment of the wall,” he said. Pena, however, said he began the meeting by telling Trump that Mexico would not pay for it.

Even many Trump supporters knew it was a ruse. A September 2016 ABC News/SSRS poll found that only 13 percent of voters thought he would be able to get the money from Mexico.

It’s also a fantasy as an answer to illegal immigration. In recent years, according to the Center for Migration Studies of New York, most of the new undocumented foreigners have arrived with valid papers and then overstayed their visas. A wall would be as much an impediment to them as it would be to a flock of geese.

Trump’s most recent fiction came in a tweet: “Build a wall & crime will fall!” Oh? El Paso’s violent crime rate plunged between 1992 and 2007, before a 57-mile, 18-foot-high fence went up on the border. At that point, the violent crime rate began rising.

Trump has put the government through the longest shutdown ever rather than give up a wall that will never be built and wouldn’t work if it were. But in the end, the fraud was also a failure.

Steve Chapman blogs at Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune. His twice-a-week column on national and international affairs, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in some 50 papers across the country.